Social distancing, self-isolation, and lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in fewer face-to-face interactions with others, and there is evidence that this has negatively affected mental health.1 On top of dealing with the “new normal”, post-docs have the added stress of job security, working long hours and receiving low pay in the increasingly scarce job market for science Ph.D. researchers. 2
With one-third of Ph.D. students struggling with mental health3, mental health discussions should no longer be a taboo topic. Here are the 9 ways to improve your mental health:
- Set boundaries – Establishing boundaries to protect your wellbeing can be difficult. Although setting boundaries can be a bit uncomfortable, it leads to better relationships with those around you. It’s okay to say no to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. For example, if you receive email from your PI late at night, try turning off your notifications or talking with your PI about your working hours. Remember, boundaries are healthy, and they only work if you are consistent.
- Take a break – Rome wasn’t built in a day and with the pressures of working in a lab, it’s easy to work 40 or more hours a week to stay on top of your workload. Ask yourself, “when was the last time I took a moment to stop and to do absolutely nothing?”. Use your PTO, take that mid-day walk or sign up for the cooking class you always wanted to take but couldn’t justify doing. Be selfish and do something that will bring you joy!
- Seek help by staying connected with friends and family – Admitting you need help is never easy, but it does get easier eventually. Believe it or not, your family and friends want to help you. Seeking professional help from a licensed psychologist is another alternative if you don’t feel comfortable using those close to you. Here’s a website provided by American Psychological Association that will help locate licensed psychologist in your area: https://locator.apa.org
- “Secure your mask first” – When feeling overwhelmed with supporting your family and/or friends, remind yourself that you cannot provide quality support if your mental health isn’t up to par. Putting family and friends first should never be at the expense of your own mental sanity. Secure your mask before helping others.
- Manage your stress level – A great way to start managing your stress level is to identify what causes you the most stress. Once identified, take note on how it made you feel in those moments and determine what actions can be taken to prevent increased stress level in the future.
- Limit social media usage – Did you know that high social media usage can increase depression and anxiety? A study done in 2018 shows the link between the negative effects of social media and mental health. Reducing your social media usages to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being 4
- Regulate your sleep – Regulating your sleep schedule can be simple with a little bit of practice and a consistent routine. Establishing a bedtime routine will allow your mind and body to prepare for a full night’s rest of quality sleep. Try to avoid using screen time leading up to the moment you close your eyes. Our brains and body need adequate sleep in order to function at their fullest potential. Get some rest.
- Stay active – People who regularly exercise overall have a better mental health and emotional welling than those that aren’t active. Thirty minutes of exercise for 3 days a week, is sufficient for improved quality of sleep and overall brain health. 5
- Practice gratitude – Taking a moment to practice gratitude is a good habit to start for your mental health journey. What are some things you are most thankful for in life? What was your favorite thing that happened this past week? What made you smile the most today? These are a few questions that you can answer to reflect on. Don’t be shy, be social and share these moments with those around you!
Remember, improving your mental health is not a linear journey to success. Be kind to yourself.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. – Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Finding a Mental Health Professional – Visit https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Individuals-with-Mental-Illness/Finding-a-Mental-Health-Professional
- The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. – Call 988 or visit https://988lifeline.org
At Plexon, we are unable to recommend healthcare professionals. Please speak with your healthcare professional if you require medical advice or a second opinion. We are not affiliated with any provider listed.